Post Office Horizon scandal – was racism an issue?

Postal, Equalities

Bosses “must come clean” on ethnic background of prosecuted postmasters and Post Office’s power to prosecute “has had its day” says Andy Furey.

“Horizon is already a by-word for one of the worst miscarriages of justice – but it’s even more shocking to think that there could have been an element of racism on the part of the Post Office’s investigators,” said CWU assistant secretary Andy, in response to an article recently published by Britain’s best-known Asian publication Eastern Eye.

The article – by Eastern Eye journalist Amit Roy – opens with the question: ‘Were Asians unfairly treated in Post Office Horizon scandal?

Author Nick Wallis, whose book (seen on page 29 of The Voice) is a comprehensive account of the whole Horizon affair, is quoted at length in Roy’s feature, saying: ‘Anecdotally, I think, non-white sub-postmasters got bigger sentences’.

Among those cited in the piece are a pregnant mother of Asian background sentenced to 15 months and an Asian man sent down for three years – both convictions which, ultimately, were overturned by the Court of Appeal. 

Commenting on the second of the two examples, Wallis tells Roy: ‘I don’t know anyone who’s got a sentence like that who is white – nowhere near it’.

Eastern Eye’s request for a list of the 738 postmasters who were convicted between 2000 and 2015, in order to investigate the matter further, was rejected by The Post Office for, in their words, ‘data protection reasons’.

But Wallis argues that ‘it’s a matter of public record who these people are, because they were convicted in the courts. And their sentences will be a matter of public record as well as the amount of money they were said to have stolen’ and he goes on to suggest that the submission of formal, Freedom of Information, requests could yield more details and make the true picture much clearer.

Andy Furey insists that this aspect of the scandal “must be fully investigated” and that “if there is some solid and substantive data clearly indicating a discriminatory approach by either the Post Office or its prosecuting arm, then this must be revealed and those responsible must be held fully accountable.”

The Horizon Inquiry, which is currently in process under retired high court judge Sir Wyn Williams, is expected to make a range of recommendations to the Government when it concludes and among the issues revealed by the scandal has been the absence of safeguards or checks preventing potential abuse of power by the Post Office.

“Like any other institution or indeed individual, the Post Office has the legal right to bring private prosecutions – but unlike private companies or private individuals, the Post Office is able to draw on the unlimited financial resources of the state to fund its legal actions,” Andy explains.

“Just this past week, Computer Weekly journalist Karl Flinders – who, like Nick Wallis, is a real credit to his profession in terms of the sheer work he has done uncovering this scandal and keeping it in the spotlight – revealed in detail the cost to the UK taxpayer in 2021, which may have exceeded £1 billion.

“But on the other hand, the Post Office’s legal decisions are not subject to the public accountability of the Crown Prosecution Service.  

“It’s becoming increasingly obvious that this lack of oversight was a major factor in the bringing to court of these fundamentally unsound prosecutions of postmasters – and if racism was also a factor, then this lack of accountability could well be a reason why that was allowed to happen too.

We have called for this to be changed and we repeat that call now.

“And we also demand that the possibility of racism by the Post Office must be fully investigated too.

“The victims of this scandal deserve nothing less”